Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Introduction to the Laboratory
Originator Ruth Weaver
Department Department of Geographical Sciences, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA
Tel. +44 (0)1752 233057
Fax +44 (0)1752 233054
Email RWeaver@Plymouth.ac.uk

Context:

This is an introduction to laboratory skills, comprising half of a Level 1 module. The other half is on graphics skills and is concurrent. There are six sessions, each of one hour. A selection of techniques and equipment are covered, including soil, water, sediment and microfossil analyses. It is compulsory for BSc geography students and ensures they cannot graduate without at least some laboratory skills. It underpins Level II modules. Students work in groups and are provided with a handbook.

Aims:

Learning objectives (in order of importance):

Students should be able to:
  1. use basic laboratory equipment correctly and with confidence
  2. understand the need for careful, accurate and precise recording of results
  3. recognise scope and causes of experimental error
  4. relate text book descriptions of physical properties to measurements they have made in the laboratory

Techniques included:

Management of laboratory access:

Teaching laboratory (shared with biology) accommodates a maximum of 35 students; so the unit is run six times, for 30 students at a time. Booking sufficient laboratory time and technician support time is not always easy. Technical support is excellent. Apparatus and samples are set up beforehand (one hour), at least one technician and one academic (lecturer or demonstrator) support the practical, technician clears away in about 20 mins. Running costs (materials and equipment) are not an issue because very little is used. Future management will depend on demonstrator and support staff availability.

Assessment:

Students put their soil analysis results on a communal results sheet which is then held on the geography fileserver. For the assignment they use simple descriptive statistics and are asked to provide a brief discussion also. For assessment of the particle size practicals their answers to structured questions (completion of tables and graphs) are handed in.

Keywords:

'Doing science'
Laboratory work
Skills development

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Practicals and Laboratory Work in Geography"


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Page created 28 November 1998
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